At 9.55pm on Wednesday, June 2, a herd of 15 wild Asian elephants entered Jinning district in the southwestern outskirts of Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province.
China Daily reported the elephants had arrived in Yuxi city on Monday, only 20 kilometers outside the capital, and an elaborate defensive campaign was underway.
Kunming and Yuxi authorities dispatched 675 police officers, 62 emergency vehicles, 12 drones and 10 tonnes of food, according to South China Morning Post. The large mobilization of resources is intended to divert the elephants from continuing towards the heart of the city.
Drones were used to constantly monitor the path of the herd while fire and dump trucks were used to block entrances to villages. Large deposits of corn and pineapples were placed along the elephants’ route in an attempt to direct them away from the city’s downtown area, as per Global Times.
Kunming is home to 8.46 million residents. Although the elephants generally avoid densely populated areas, measures are being taken to protect the elephants and the people of the city. South China Morning Post reported that the elephants had destroyed RMB6.8 million worth of crops in the past 40 days of their journey.
An elephant on a rampage in the town of Meng’a in March 2019
Asian elephants, of which only about 300 live in China, have been recognized as endangered since 1986. The animals are protected under Chinese law, however, encounters between villagers and wild elephants often turn deadly. In May 2017, a 69-year-old Yunnan woman was tossed around and then torn to pieces by an adult and a juvenile elephant, as per SCMP.
Experts believe that the elephants are in search of food as a result of development in the region they left behind. In December 2020, the herd arrived in Pu’er city, having departed the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve. Forty percent of the natural habitat for Asian elephants has disappeared in the past twenty years to make way for rubber and tea plantations.
Li Zhongyuan of the Xishuangbanna Forestry and Grass Bureau suggested to Global Times that the elephants have learned to depend on farmers’ fields as their food source, eating corn and sugar cane.
The herd has traveled 500 kilometers so far, and two elephants were born along the way. A timeline by CGTN indicates that two elephants turned back on April 24 after allegedly discovering alcohol at a villager’s home in Mojiang County of Pu’er city. The herd entered the town of Eshan near Yuxi city on May 27, and police evacuated people and vehicles while the herd roamed the streets for six hours.